An Australian Prologue

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

When's the last time you were in a theater lobby and you felt a sense of anticipation? Maybe even that delicious feeling of the unknown?

From the very first moments, the US/Australian company Four Larks manages to capture that excitement with their junkyard opera, Orpheus.

Smartly, Four Larks begins this anticipation long before their performance begins. You're told the show will happen not in a theater but in a secret location on the edge of downtown LA. You'll only be given the address once you buy a ticket. Already, they're piquing a sense of curiosity.

When you arrive you discover a two story warehouse right off the 10. After searching a bit to find the entrance you make you're way up a graffiti filled staircase, past an impromptu street art gallery and giant bolts of fabric - to the makeshift lobby.

It's a found space: a discovery. Somewhere hidden behind softly lit muslin is the theater space. What it contains - a mystery. Four Larks has created that rare but essential entree to their theater, an architectural and intellectual prologue. In a city where we have so little time in groups, where our solitary cars provide isolation, we need, forgive the metaphor, an 'on ramp' for theater. To make sure we really get it - when the house opens we don't walk straight into the theater but instead pass through a zig-zag tunnel - completely unnecessary but absolutely essential.

Once inside you're not disappointed. Nestled beneath massive concrete beams laden with tree branches and gently glowing string lights is what feels like a lost world. On a tiny stage of dark sand is a assembled a collection of old trunks, wooden crates, a giant wooden spool - all found objects - part of the company's "Junkyard" aesthetic. (While I take their "Junkyard" meaning, think more flea market and reclaimed wood.)

Arranged in the corner, looking a bit like they've just stepped out of the Dust Bowl circa 1930, is a sextet of musicians: a cello, a violin, a harp, percussion. It's magical - and the piece hasn't even started.



When the play, or "junkyard opera" begins the musicians are joined by five actors to tell, and sing, the tale of Orpheus and his journey to the underworld to reclaim Eurydice. Physically, it's the world of movement-based story theater where the actors create the whole world. Aurally, it's a mix of choral music, folk music - let's just say the orchestration spans from the upright harp to the banjo.

While the piece aspires to a circularly structured whole, it feels more like an episodic string of pearls - with some more brilliant than others. It doesn't really find its tone until it goes to hell: the beginning a little too earnestly sweet for me. But given the virtuosity of the performances and the design, these are quibbles.

The trio of artists behind Four Larks all met in California while in college then cut their teeth making work in Australia, now thanks to the Getty and some visa issues they're an LA company for the foreseeable future. Let's hope this found treasure is only the first of many.

Here's the only bad news, the show only plays this week. So quickly buy a ticket, get a dinner reservation at Bestia or Church and State and discover a hidden jewel on the edge of downtown LA.

Orpheus plays through this Sunday.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 75 minutes without an intermission.

Banner image: Eugene Lee